Words by Tamzin Hardy - Pictures courtesy of Tamzin Hardy and Cuboimages

Driving towards Vieste, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a fairground ride as the roads twist their way up, down and round whilst at the same time providing spectacular views of the azure sea below that awaits you. Unspoilt and situated approximately 100 kilometres from Foggia, the Gargano sticks out like the shape of an ear on Italy’s Adriatic coast.

Vieste is known as the ‘capital’ of the Gargano. The town, which has a population of approximately 12,000 and is on the easternmost part of the peninsula, plays host during the summer to thousands of tourists who bathe on one of the glorious beaches during the day and take a wander in the pleasant town centre at night.

The Gargano that is today a tourist’s paradise was once part of an isolated area and was usually only visited by pilgrims heading towards the shrine at Monte Sant’Angelo.

Cathedral and castle

Explore the town further and its appeal really comes to light. The centro storico that lies on the rocky point of San Francesco is typically captivating with its charming 11th-century cathedral that was built on the site of a pre-existing church and has a series of steps leading up to its entrance. The inside of the cathedral contains marble portraits depicting the Madonna and child and Stories of Christ and the Virgin.

Not far from the cathedral and proudly standing 43 metres above sea level is the castle, one of many built by Federick II in 1240 to fend off the pirate attacks and was altered in the 16th century.

One particularly fine view is at the Punta di San Francesco, a short walk from the cathedral, which offers a panorama towards Mattinata, another of the Gargano’s appealing towns which provides further opportunities for beautiful photographs.

The centro storico and the main town square, Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele, with its series of tourist shops and restaurants, are divided by a succession of steps, one set of which has more than 100 steps.

It’s worth taking a walk to the west of the main town centre along Via Cristoforo Colombo to the attractive port where, just before arriving, you have a view over the cliff of Sant’Eufemia and the important lighthouse that represents a landmark for ships in the Adriatic seas.

Once thriving, the port was important for trade with Greece. Today it hosts many yachts and is the place for booking tours to the
nearby Isole Tremiti and Croatia.

A legend set in stone

Once the town centre has been visited, the outer district has many pleasing sights.

  1. One is the impressive limestone monolith of Pizzomunno along the seafront.
    Once a 26-metre high cliff, coastal erosion formed its monolithic shape and an ancient story suggests that the stack is actually a young fisherman who was turned to stone by mermaids jealous of his love for Cristalda, a sea god’s daughter. The myth states that every 100 years, on the night of a full moon, the two young lovers meet up again.
    As you head even further along the seafront back down the twisty roads, you find sandy beaches that are divided into lidos, the parts of the beach which are privately owned and charge for use of sun loungers and parasols, and the spiagge libere, the parts of the beach that are open to all.

  2. Probably one of the most spectacular sights of the Gargano’s jagged coastline is the Arch of San Felice, which stands a proud 129m high and is often referred to as the Testa del Gargano (the head of the Gargano) with trees topping it.
    When the sun shines and reflects on the beautifully clear seas, it’s easy to find yourself taking yet more photographs of the remarkable scenery and admiring the surrounding bay, the Baia di Campi, a tranquil spot sheltered by two small islands and pine forests.

Grottos and tombs

To examine the Gargano and its treats even further, continue along the coast road that leads you to towns such as:

  • Pugnochiuso, an unspoilt area and a bay with more characteristic grottos.

  • Mattinata, one of the Gargano’s southernmost towns, surrounded by a range of mountains stretching towards the sea. The town has typically clear seas and a relatively small shingle beach that leads to a series of caves including the ‘Bell Cave’ also known as the ‘Pantheon of the Gargano’.

  • Out of the town centre is Monte Saraceno with its excavations of over 400 tombs that date back to the 7th century.

  • In the opposite direction, heading further north into the Gargano, are the towns of Peschici and Rodi Garganico, two small yet charming towns with more golden beaches and historical town centres.

  • To experience nature first-hand, you might want to visit the Umbra Forest in the heart of the Gargano. Owned by the state, the forest stretches over an area of approximately 15,000 hectares where you can spot beech trees and Adriatic oaks as well as over 60 species and subspecies of orchids. If you’re lucky, you might get to spot the rare Gargano roe deer, foxes and badgers.

The Gargano and its beaches, grottos and seas is such a varied and interesting part of Puglia that once visited, it can really make you feel that you should go back for more, just in case you missed something the first time around.

Further Information

To learn more about the Vieste area please visit:

How to get to Vieste

BY CAR: From the north, Vieste can be reached by autostrada A14 Bologna / Taranto, taking the exit at Poggio Imperiale. From the south, take the exit for Foggia. It’s worth pointing out that if you’re weak of stomach, you might want to take a travel sickness pill to confront the curves!

BY TRAIN: Train services from Foggia or San Severo connect with the train station at Peschici and a bus service operates to Vieste.

BY BUS: Regular bus services run between Foggia and Vieste and are operated by SITA.

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